Friday, April 25, 2008

Post-Spring Thoughts: Part II

Coming into the spring, the defense faced many difficult questions: Who would step up to replace the production of Trevor Laws? What would Jon Tenuta bring to the defense? How would Tenuta and Corwin Brown mesh? I am not sure the spring answered all of our questions about this defense. Here are my thoughts about what we did learn:

1. The DL needs Pat Kuntz back, and the sooner the better. This unit was woefully thin this spring, both in sheer numbers, and also in top end talent. The good news is that I expect Kuntz back this summer. The Irish DL will need Kuntz's attitude and enthusiasm this season so he needs to come back mentally focused and athletically in shape. The Irish do not have the luxury of easing him back in while he works his way into playing shape. He has to show up ready to go.

2. Without counting the incoming freshmen, I think the Irish have 5 DL they can turn to for solid minutes -- Kuntz, Justin Brown, Emeka Nwankwo, Morrice Richardson, and Ian Williams. We all know what Kuntz will give you -- solid production, great effort. Ian Williams looked good to me this spring, but he also looked like a guy who at times could have used some competition at his spot to push him a bit. Let's face it, Ian was really the only legit NG on the roster this spring. The 2 surprises were Emeka Nwankwo and Morrice Richardson. Emeka is going to be a player and the proverbial "switch" has gone on for Morrice. There are some very interesting possibilities for alignments with these guys. In their 3 man line sets against more power running teams, I think you could see a lineup of Kuntz-Williams-Nwankwo, which will provide a lot of girth up front. Morrice Richardson will always have a role in this defense because he has speed and pass rushing ability that few others on this roster have at DL right now. The guy who is somewhat lost in the shuffle is Justin Brown. He will give the Irish minutes, but I just don't see the coaching staff being sold on him. Paddy Mullen has not become a factor to this point.

3. The difference in LB play this spring under Tenuta was noticeable. They were more aggressive, looked more instinctive, and true to Tenuta's mantra, they played "downhill." The Irish know they have 3 LBs they can count on -- Mo Crum, Kerry Neal, and Brian Smith. Crum is a smart football player and captain, Kerry looked outstanding and I heard he was unblockable at times this spring, and Brian Smith, while he will never be spectacular, will be extremely solid. What I think the Irish were trying to do this spring was find that 4th LB. Toryan Smith is the logical choice, but judging by the moves that were made this spring, it appears he did not nail down a starting spot. I have always liked Scott Smith, but in order for him to be the guy, you would have to move Brian Smith inside, which I don't think the coaching staff is sold on yet as an every down solution. I believe this group is improved -- I just don't know if along with the DL they can consistently stop the run against the better teams.

4. That brings me to a young man by the name of Harrison Smith -- a natural safety who is blocked at that spot by some very talented returning players. However, every time the coaches look up, the kid is making plays. When he was recruited and I watched Harrison's tape, everyone talked about his blazing speed at safety. What jumped out to me, though, was that this kid has tremendous, unusual for his age, instincts on the football field. Yes, he has great speed, but his instincts allow him to appear even faster. You watch his tape and it seems like he is all over the field because with his instincts, he is always around the ball. Harrison is not a natural LB and won't be an every down LB for the Irish this year. What I think they will do with him is make him their X factor -- their rover if you will. He will play a lot of snaps, but they will come at multiple positions. One play he might be a 3rd safety in a spread defense, another play he might be a LB in a nickle alignment, you might even see him rushing off the edge a bit. He will be on the field.

5. It won't be easy, but the Irish defense really needs 1, maybe 2 of their LB recruits to give them some time this season. I think Darius Fleming's talent will get him on the field a bit. However, the Irish need either Filer or McDonald to become a factor for depth as the season goes on.

6. The Irish secondary is the best it has been in a decade. They are talented, deep, and experienced -- adjectives we can't use to describe every position group on this team. David Bruton is going to be outstanding and I firmly believe he will be a round 1-2 pick in the NFL draft next season. Kyle McCarthy is probably not the second most talented safety on the roster, but he is perfect for what the Irish need from that SS spot. He is smart, knows the scheme, is fundamentally sound, and perhaps the best tackler on the defense. With the run defense question marks the Irish have, Kyle is an extremely important guy to have on the field. The athletic ability and range of Bruton will allow the Irish to shift Kyle closer to the lone of scrimmage in certain instances to support the run. At CB, you can run any of 4 guys out there -- Lambert, Walls, McNeil, or Gray and feel quite comfortable. The guy who actually impressed me the most this spring was Raeshon McNeil. he is not the natural athlete Walls is and isn't as quick as Gray, or as strong as Lambert, but his technique is outstanding and he is very consistent. He had a wonderful spring and earned himself some minutes.

Bottom line is this defense will be faster and more aggressive than last season. They will force more turnovers. However, their overall success will be determined by their ability to stop the run. While the Irish have talent on this defense, their lack of depth at DL and LB will become a major issue if they are kept on the field with time consuming drives.

Your thoughts???

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Post-Spring Thoughts

It has been a while since I have posted anything here, but I wanted to wait until after spring ball to get a handle on my thoughts about where the Irish are. In general, I think the Irish made dramatic improvement this spring as a team. There are still holes, some glaring, but the biggest improvement I saw and heard was that this team has galvanized. There is a very different attitude on this roster right now. A funny thing happened this spring -- Charlie Weis upped the physical intensity of practice, and his team responded. The coaching staff made the guys hit at every chance, and they embraced it. I don't know how much better the Irish will be on offense or defense next season, but I know without a doubt that they will be a much tougher team, a much nastier team, a team that may lose, but they will put up a street fight and stand together. I will share my thoughts on the offense today and in the next day or so, I will post my thoughts on the defense.

1. Jimmy Clausen is MUCH improved. Physically, mentally he is just light years ahead of where he was. There is still plenty of room for growth, which is a good thing. I have said all along that the sky is the limit for this kid. If he can get the protection and the WR play, he is going to have a very good season. I also know, though, that he is not ready to take a team on his shoulders and carry them. He needs a solid running game and pass protection. This team will be much more effective, this year, with Jimmy throwing 20-25 passes per game than they would be with Jimmy throwing 35-40 passes per game. The Irish can win with Jimmy going 17-25 for 200-250 yards and limiting turnovers.

2. If the Irish do not take advantage of this stable of RBs and make this year the year they commit to the run, then they are making a huge mistake. It simply doesn't get much better than Hughes, Allen, and Aldridge. Everyone wants to know who will start, who will carry the load. At this point, I think you have to say Robert Hughes will be given the first shot. I really enjoy watching him. He is so raw and has not even scratched his potential yet, which is very exciting. I watch Robert run and he still struggles often with hitting the right hole, or making the right cut, but he is so powerful, and uncannily light on his feet that he is still productive! It defies explanation sometimes! Robert can be an excellent back this year. When he reaches his potential and the light goes on, watch out! While I think Robert will get first crack at being the workhorse, all 3 backs will play and from what I hear, the coaching staff will not be afraid to ride the hot hand if someone is making plays early in a game. Keep an eye on Armando Allen, because he is close to clicking. Real close.

3. At FB, Asaph Schwapp looks more agile, which is a good thing. Moving Paskorz to FB is also a great move, because if he can get the blocking down, he can be a weapon (though likely not this coming season). Moving Paskorz, if successful, essentially negates the need to use a recruiting scholarship this season on a FB, which is a good thing in a year where we are limited in available scholarship numbers.

4. At WR, I will be honest -- I am slightly disappointed. I am disappointed that the players have not made more dramatic strides and the intensity and concentration level is not where it needs to be. David Grimes is going to be a very productive football player for this team if he can stay healthy. He runs great routes and usually has sure hands. But let's be honest -- he is not a #1 receiver. The 2 guys I wanted to see step forward this spring were Duval Kamara and Golden Tate (I would have included Robbie Parris in this group, but he was banged up). Duval looked very similar to how he looked during the season -- incredibly talented, fantastic size, inconsistent hands, and inconsistent effort. No receiver currently on the Irish roster has the upside that Duval has. Unfortunately, I did not see as much development, growth, and maturity from him as I had hoped. Duval needs to go out every play driven to use his unique blend of size and speed to simply control a CB, He does this sometimes, but not every play and not nearly often enough. Jimmy needs to know that every down he can count on Duval being where he needs to be and being willing to fight for the ball. With Golden Tate, we all know he has speed. You can't deny it any more than you can coach it. However, he is still very very raw in his route running and understanding of the position. With the cavalry of talented freshmen receivers showing up this summer, I expected to see more of a fire lit under these guys and I just didn't see it.

5. Mike Ragone was the Irish TE position this spring. This young man got more reps than any other player other than Jimmy this spring. As an Irish fan, Ragone is going to come to symbolize next year's team I believe. He is tough, hard nosed, plays with an attitude, won't back down, is extremely talented, but is still young and will make some young mistakes. In case you can't tell, I am a big fan of this player. The catch he made in the Blue-Gold game over Brian Smith was an NFL play. Ragone has a lot of work to do on his technique in the blocking game, but he always give you 100% and he is flat nasty. He will have trouble blocking some of the bigger rushers this season, but the one thing you know is that he is never going to hang his head and he is never going to back down. Getting Will Yeatman back in the fall will be huge for this unit. Will is going to need to pick up the slack in the blocking game. I liked the experiment of Luke Schmidt at TE, but I am afraid that his unfortunate head injury will cost him. He desperately needed the reps he would have gotten this spring. With Yeatman back in the fall, Ragone as the starter, and 2 talented freshmen about to arrive, I think there is a chance Luke gets lost in the shuffle.

6. Perhaps no position was more scrutinized this spring than the OL, and with good reason after the debacle we witnessed last season. Overall, I am encouraged. I am actually encouraged more by the change in attitude and cohesiveness than anything else. That will go a long way towards fixing many of the problems we witnessed last season. Trust me on that one. I don't often single out guys on the OL, but if you want to know where the improved aggressive attitude comes from, look no further than Eric Olsen. This kid is an animal. Every practice video you watch shows him sprinting to lead a drill. Every skirmish and he is right in the middle of it. Every time a back or QB goes down, he is the first man there to pick him up. I said last year that talent and experience were not going to be enough to fix the OL problems for next season -- they needed an attitude adjustment. That has happened. Having said that, there are still issues with this OL. If you were to ask me today how the Irish will line up for San Diego State, I would say that from left to right the starters would be Duncan, Olsen, Wenger, Stewart, and Young, with Turk rotating in often at both guard spots. I have read a lot of criticism from the spring game about the play of Sam Young, and to be honest, I don't see it. No OLineman is going to be perfect every snap. Everyone gets beat occasionally. Sam is what he is -- a powerful run blocking lineman who is solid in pass pro, but struggles against elite outside speed rushers. You can win, a lot, with a guy like Sam at RT. I think the Irish have a special combination in the running game on the right side with mammoth Sam and Stewart to run behind. To be frank, my concern is with the LT spot and Paul Duncan. Duncan has improved, but I am just not sure how much ability he has left to improve. Through no fault of his own, I just don't see Paul as an elite tackle. He is not powerful in the run game, and he struggles to hold his ground in pass pro. That spot will be the weakness of next year's line in my view. I think the Irish will have to struggle not to telegraph their play calls, because I think they want Schwapp in there at FB on running plays and they know they are going to need to give Duncan help in the form of 2nd TE Will Yeatman in the passing game. Nevertheless, you play with the guys you have and right now the Irish do not have a better option at LT than Duncan, who when he plays hard and smart, can be ok. I wanted to see Matt Romine step forward and take that spot this spring, but it didn't happen and Romine was hobbled with an apparent ankle injury.

Overall, this offense will be improved next season. It would be hard not to improve off last season's performance, however, I think the improvement will be genuine and significant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Perception Matters

I don't know if I am the only one who has noticed this, but it appears that there is a concerted effort recently to change the commonly held (mis)perceptions about Coach Weis. We have all heard the criticisms and complaints -- he is arrogant, he ignores former players, he is brash, he is difficult to work with, he is hostile, etc. etc. etc. Let me be clear in stating that I do not believe any of these statements accurately portray Coach Weis. However, those (mis)perceptions are out there and I have finally noticed an effort on the part of the Notre Dame community to portray a different side of Coach Weis.

First, take a look at what Coach Weis has done himself. He has made himself more available and approachable to his players. He is delegating more responsibility to his assistant coaches. Since he can no longer be on the road recruiting in May, he is taking the opportunity to get out and visit numerous alumni groups during this time. He is visiting U.S. troops in the Middle East. Please understand that I am not in any way suggesting Coach Weis is doing any of this for good publicity. He is not. he is doing these things because they are the right thing to do and he understands his tremendous role as an ambassador for the University. However, a secondary benefit of these actions should be that people see that there is a different side to Coach Weis than has been portrayed in the media.

Second, I have noticed several public positive comments coming from others about Coach Weis. For example, in yesterday's Observer article, Maura Weis, Coach Weis' wife states:

"Coach loves her [Hannah], she is his little angel," Maura said. "My husband is a wonderful human being. He does not play golf or go out with his friends; being with his family is his hobby."

From today's South Bend Tribune, baseball coach Dave Schrage says:

"Coach (Charlie) Weis has been phenomenal as far as letting these guys play baseball," Schrage said of working things out with the football coach, referring to sophomore receiver/outfielder Golden Tate and junior punter/pitcher Eric Maust. "He's been just tremendous to work with on this."

Schrage later says:

"We have three (baseball) players who also play football. They're smart kids and they're dedicated kids, and one of the nice things about Notre Dame is we have a football coach who cares about the whole program, and he's letting this happen, because I've been in places where this doesn't happen."

My reaction? FINALLY!!! Look, no one wants to see a University or a football program run in such a way that we cater public perception or make decisions by sticking a finger in the wind and taking a poll. However, by the same token, you can't stand by and allow one of the University's highest profile representatives to be hammered repeatedly while you say nothing either. Coach Weis has really stepped up to the plate since he has been at Notre Dame and elevated the profile of the program from the yawn of the Willingham debacle to where ND is back to being a lightning rod for discussion. He has run a clean program and a successful program. Before I take heat on the successful part, please let s not forget that he is the same coach who led the program to back to back BCS games in his first 2 years after inheriting a program that was going nowhere under Ty-Tanic Willingham.

I am not an apologist for Coach Weis and believe he has made several mistakes, as he himself has acknowledged. However, I just wanted to share what I have noticed as a subtle effort to re-shape the public perception and image of Coach Weis. I think it is long overdue and I am happy to see it.

Your thoughts???

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

IrishGlory Q&A

We are almost 1 week into spring practice and I wanted to take some time to answer some questions. Thank you to those who have emailed me. Please feel free to email any questions you have to

Q: What do you think of Tenuta in the early going? Do you think this is going to work with Tenuta and Corwin together?

A: I think Jon Tenuta has been EXACTLY what this football team has needed. He is passionate, energetic, tough, and one heck of a football coach. I never had a chance to follow Tenuta's coaching style throughout the years, but I have been incredibly impressed by what I have seen. I think this is going to work just fine. Corwin and Tenuta are both winners.

Q: What do you think about James Aldridge being listed as the starter at RB?

A: I have a couple of thoughts on this. First, I think it is deserved. James is a heck of a football player who showed flashes of what he could do at times last year. He is the veteran of the group now and deserves the first shot at starting. Second, don't pay too much attention to the depth charts at this point. Remember, last year at this time Travis Thomas was listed as the starter at RB. How many carries did he get? I know everyone is clamoring for Robert Hughes to be the starter. You need to realize that while Robert is incredibly talented and can compensate for some of his and the line's shortcomings with his size and strength, he has an awful lot to learn and improve on. He will be a very good one, but he is not Jerome Bettis right now. He has much to learn. I do believe that the starter will be either James or Robert, as I think the coaching staff has a definite role in mind for Armando as a change of pace back/slot guy/screen guy.

Q: Have you seen any signs of hope for improvement on the O Line?

A: Yes!!! I really have and it starts with 3 guys -- Sam Young, Dan Wenger, and Eric Olsen. Eric Olsen did a phenomenal job in the weight room this offseason and is just a driven guy. Sam is much more reserved by nature, but he is stepping up. Dan Wenger will be the glue on this line, and I suspect will assume a leadership role. I don't think this line is going to go from awful to dominant in 1 year, but I do think they will be considerably better.

Q: There have been reports that Kerry Neal has been working with the DEs instead of the LBs. What do you make of this?

A: I think we need to fasten our safety belts with this defense because trying to figure out who is lined up where on any given play is going to be a challenge. I do think the Irish will show more 4 man fronts as I have said previously, with Kerry as a rush end, but that does not mean we will be a 4-3 team. We will not. I think you will see lots of guys playing multiple spots and moving around. I think Brian Smith is a guy who will be both inside and outside. There will be a lot of moving parts to this Irish defense. I am excited to see how it comes together.

Q: Who do you think will win the spot at SS?

A: My money is on Kyle McCarthy. Couple of reasons. First, he is a fundamentally sound football player who has a very good understanding of the scheme. That is important because you are losing a guy in Zbikowski who brought a lot of experience to the table. Second, of the candidates competing, I believe Kyle is the best in run support and is the most fundamentally sound tackler of the group. That is important in the Irish defense for this position, especially because of the lack of depth/talent on the DL this season. The Irish will count on their LBs and SS to be stout in run support. While I think McCarthy will be the starter, I do think you will see quite a bit of either Jashaad Gaines or Sergio Brown, particularly on passing downs. They simply have too much athletic ability to be kept off the field.

Q: IG, it seems like every spring there is one guy that comes from out of nowhere to make a splash. Who do you think that guy will be this year?

A: There are plenty of guys that I am hoping make a splash, but so far, from what I am hearing, Mike Ragone is a guy who is flashing. Everyone says he is still too small to be an every down TE. They are partially correct, as he does still need to get stronger. What I have seen and heard, though, is that he is a guy who plays with that hard nosed attitude and he won't back down from anyone. He is a scrapper. He also has tremendous ball skills. Keep a very close eye on Mike Ragone is what I will say.

Thank you all and GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 17, 2008

IrishGlory Q&A

It has been a while since I have stopped to answer some reader submitted questions, so I wanted to take the opportunity to do that today. Thank you for emailing the questions and please keep them coming to

Q: Will the Irish be deep enough on the OL to run a no huddle offense next year?
A: Will they be deep enough? Yes. Will they be capable enough? We can't answer that yet. From a sheer numbers standpoint, the Irish are not in terrible shape along the OL. Where they need to improve is in their attitude and their mental awareness. In order to successfully run a no huddle offense during a game, every guy on the field better have a pretty darn good understanding of the offense because there is no time to stop and think, no time for someone to tell you in the huddle where to go or what your responsibilities are. I did not see that level of understanding last year, which is somewhat understandable in light of the inexperience across the board. That will need to improve dramatically this season.

Q: With Jon Tenuta coming in, do you think the Irish will switch back to being a 4-3 team?
A: No. The Irish have spent a great deal of time evolving their defense from being a pure 4-3 defense to being a hybrid type of 3-4 personnel defense. They have recruited (successfully) for the 3-4 personnel look and I expect them to stick with it. Having said that, I expect that you will see plenty of 4 man line looks from the Irish this season. That is why I refer to the Irish defense as a 3-4 hybrid. I expect that on many snaps, you will see what looks like a 4-3 front. I would not be surprised to see many snaps where Kerry Neal, Mo Richardson, Brian Smith, John Ryan, etc. have their hands on the ground as DEs. Short answer is I think the Irish want to generate confusion and chaos for their opponents this year and want to dictate the play more so than the past. I think they will move guys around quite a bit to create different looks and generate pressure.

Q: Can you pick one guy you think might surprise on offense and one on defense?
A: This is difficult, as spring practice hasn't even started yet. I will try anyway, but this is just based on my own thoughts, not any evidence from the offseason or practice, etc. On offense, my pick is Armando Allen. When I say Armando, that doesn't mean I think he is going to necessarily win the starting job. I just think that at the end of the year, he was really an improved player. I do not see Armando being a 20 carry per game guy for the Irish. I do see him making a big time impact this season. On defense, I want to say Toryan Smith, because the Irish desperately need him to step up, but we haven't seen those flashes in games yet. Therefore, I am going to go with a position -- DE. I think either Justin Brown or Emeka Nwankwo is going to step up and give the Irish some solid play. If you look back to Trevor Laws as a senior vs. Trevor Laws as a 5th year, the difference is night and day. While Justin is not as talented as Trevor, he does have the ability to make a significant improvement in his level/consistency of play. If he doesn't, a guy I am very high on in Emeka Nwankwo will be pushing him hard.

Q: What are the Irish going to do with only 1 scholarship TE this spring?
A. Good question. Let's hope Mike Ragone is in good shape as he is going to playing quite a bit this spring. Honestly, I would think a guy like Luke Schmidt may slide over and take snaps there and also fill in with some walk-ons at the position. No doubt, the numbers there are not ideal. The good part is I expect Will Yeatman along with 2 freshmen to arrive in the fall.

Q: IrishGlory, in the past you said that if you had the #1 pick in the NFL draft, you would take Jake Long. Do you still feel that way?
A. Yes. Here is my thinking, because I know many disagreed with me when I made that statement. First, I think Jake Long is a big time OT. While he is not Joe Thomas, who is a franchise LT, I think Jake is a future 10 year starter at RT for some NFL team. Second, there is no other player I look at and don't have some question about them in some aspect of their game/character. Third, my philosophy of the #1 pick is that you cannot afford to gamble and miss. The salary cap ramifications, etc. will set you back 5 years. Therefore, if I am going to give out big money to a #1 pick, I want it to be a guy I know is going to be a franchise fixture type guy. He doesn't need to be a hall of famer. He needs to be a big time guy who is going to help my franchise for years to come. Many disagree and that is fine. My question though, is who would you take instead????

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Secondary

NOTE: This is the last in the series of articles I have written recapping the 2007 Irish recruiting class. With spring practice around the corner, it is time to look ahead and get fired up for Irish football again.

It has been a looooooooong time since I have been able to say that the Irish secondary is a STRENGTH of the team. However, we can say it now. One of the strength of Charlie's recruiting since he arrived has been the secondary. With the infusion of talent in the form of guys like Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil, Harrison Smith, and Gary Gray, the Irish have some tremendous athletes in the secondary. This recruiting class will add 3 more players to that mix.

Robert Blanton: I am extremely excited about Robert joining the program because he is a very different type of player than the Irish currently have in the secondary. While he could play either CB or S, I think Robert is best suited at corner. He differs from other CBs on the roster in that he is a little bigger, a little stronger, and better suited for being physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage. Robert is not going to blow you away with his speed and I don't think he is the pure athlete that a guy like Darrin Walls is, but his instincts are off the charts, his footwork is excellent, and his attitude is infectious. In many ways, Robert reminds me of a guy like Shane Walton. When you take the measurables, you question whether this guy is a big time player. Then you watch him compete and he just makes play after play. Robert is also a talker who is going to bring that swagger onto the field. Robert has an awful lot of quality talent to beat out if he wants to see the field this year, but of the 3 prospects, I think he is the most likely to get on the field at some point this season.

Jamoris Slaughter: I don't know whether Jamoris will wind up at S or CB, but I know that wherever he winds up, when he is on the field, he is going to hit someone. Anyone. Jamoris is a hitter and on film, he delivered some big time shots. While he is not the biggest guy, Jamoris is always willing to stick his nose in there. As he matures, Jamoris will learn better when to go for the bone jarring hit and when to use form and technique to just make the sure tackle. I am really hoping that the coaching staff figures out Jamoris' best position and then plants him there to learn it well. Jamoris has a lot of work to do on his technique and he would really benefit by being able to focus on 1 position and learn it well. If the staff needs him, Jamoris could be a solid special teamer this year.

Dan McCarthy: First off, I just want Dan to be healthy. During the season, Dan suffered a fairly significant neck/back injury that ultimately required surgery. While I have read that he plans to be healthy for next season, I think the surgery and resulting loss of strength and inability to work out will set him back. The kid has tremendous talent, so first, I just want him to be 100% healthy. Any time a football player suffers a neck/back injury, you always worry that it will remain in the back of their mind. That is just extra reason to make sure the player is really 110% healthy before you let him back on the field. As a player, Dan is a hard nosed kid, just like his brother Kyle. He plays the game the right way and is fundamentally sound. He does not get enough credit for his athleticism, as he is extremely good with the ball in his hands. As a matter of fact, I think before he graduates, he has a real good chance of returning some punts or kicks. He is that good with the ball in his hands.

As with the previous classes in the secondary, the Irish have done a fantastic job upgrading the talent at the position. I am absolutely thrilled that gone are the days where secondary recruiting involved little more than bringing in athletes or RBs and trying to force them to be CBs (seem Ambrose Wooden, Vontez Duff, etc.). Secondary is a unique position involving unique skill sets and it was a huge flaw of previous coaching staffs to believe they could simply create CBs and safeties out of guys who either didn't know the position or didn't want to play the position. Thankfully those days are long gone.

Your thoughts????

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Linebacker

One of the glaring weaknesses on last year's Irish squad was the play at LB. On the outside, the Irish were extremely young, with Kerry Neal and Brian Smith garnering huge minutes. On the inside, the Irish were simply not productive enough and lacked elite talent. The Irish took a step towards addressing this weakness by signing 4 LB prospects who will immediately upgrade the competition at this position.

Darius Fleming: Darius reminds me a lot of Kerry Neal. He is a tremendous athlete with very good speed who just has a knack for rushing the passer. You can't have enough of those guys. Darius will need to work on his pass coverage and overall understanding of the position, but right now he is certainly a guy who could see the field. I don't believe you will see him starting this year, as he is behind some talented guys in Kerry and Brian, but I strongly believe that he will see the field.

Steven Filer: Steve can play either outside or inside in the Irish defense, but I believe he is best suited for one of the inside backer positions. He is a big, strong kid who already has the size to compete for playing time. What differentiates Steve from some of the other LBs currently on the Irish roster is that he retains outstanding athleticism and quickness with that size. By contrast, a guy like Mo Crum looked very athletic at 220 lbs, but when he bulked up this past season, he looked slow and awkward. Steve can play at 240 and look very fluid as an athlete. On film, Steve is just a playmaker. He is a guy who is going to find the ball and be solid in his tackling. He doesn't have that blazing speed to go sideline to sideline, but that is why the Irish 3-4 personnel defense is perfect for him, because he won't have to. Make no mistake, though, Steve has plenty of speed for his position in this defense. The other benefit is that Steve's high school played a defense that shares many concepts with the Irish defense. While I don't think Steve will start, as ILB in this defense takes a while to learn (see Toryan Smith), I do think he is going to be pushing for minutes this year.

Anthony McDonald: In many cases, you can tell when a guy comes from a football family. They seem to have more honed instincts, they are more fundamentally sound, and they just seem to understand the game better. Anthony is one of those guys. His instincts for reading a play are what jumped out at me. He doesn't have great speed, but his instincts compensate for that as he always seems to find his way into the proper position and always is around the ball. I will take a guy with the talent of Anthony and great knowledge of the game and great instincts at ILB in this defense any day. Anthony is also a very aggressive player who is looking to make the big hit. As he matures, he will learn when to rein that in and just make the tackle, as sometimes his desire for the big play hurts him. I would rather teach an aggressive kid to rein it in rather than make a passive kid more aggressive any day.

David Posluszny: I will confess that I have not seen much film of David at all, as there isn't much available and he was hurt for much of this past year. Therefore, I will rely on what I have been told about David. First, he is a football player. Everyone I talk to uses that exact same description at some point in the conversation. He is a hard nosed, talented, lunch pail type kid who is going to keep his mouth shut and give you everything he has. He isn't Rudy, though. This kid can play. Keep in mind that his brother Paul was not a 5 star guy coming out of high school either and he is doing pretty well for himself. Without having seen him play, I am not sure whether David will wind up inside or outside at LB in this defense. I do know that he needs to add some bulk to his frame and he needs to avoid injuries, as they have seemed to plague him for a couple of years now. I don't think you will see David this year, unless he makes a mark on special teams, but I would not discount him becoming a solid player down the road for the Irish.

Your thoughts?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Defensive Line

Finally!!! That is my reaction to the Irish finally bringing in a big time haul of numbers and talent on the D Line. For years, D Line recruiting has been an Achilles heel for the Irish, but finally the Irish began to address their needs in this position group this year.

Sean Cwynar: As an early enrollee and already a big kid, Cwynar is exactly what the doctor ordered for a depleted DL this spring. With Pat Kuntz out for the spring and Derell Hand out of football, the Irish are going to be hurting for numbers this spring. Bringing in a kid like Cwynar early will help. Sean is a perfect DE in a 3-4 personnel defense. He is a big kid, with talent, a quick first step, and a motor that doesn't quit. From a technique standpoint, Sean has some work to do, but the natural talent is there. The biggest thing that jumps out at me about Sean is his motor. He is really relentless in his pursuit of the ball. He plays the game similar to the way Pat Kuntz does -- all out. Sean is not going to beat you with his speed, but he is quicker than you might think. With his frame and a head start, I think he could give the Irish some snaps in the fall and hold his own.

Ethan Johnson: Plain and simple, Ethan is the edge rusher from the DE position the Irish have been missing. His first step is frighteningly quick and he beats many opponents immediately with that first step. He is also very strong at the point of attack and is not a guy that is going to need to put on a lot of weight in order to contribute. In past years, the Irish have landed pass rushers, but they have come in as thin guys who needed years to add the required muscle to hold up. In Ethan, the Irish finally landed a guy who is already 250-260 pounds, which allows him to get in the mix earlier and worry more about learning scheme and technique than simply adding bulk. What happens with a lot of the really thin guys who come in, like a Kallen Wade, is that it takes them 2-3 years to bulk up, then they have to learn to play with that weight, and only then are they the contributor you thought they could be. Provided a knee injury suffered his senior season is healed (and I hear that he is full go) Ethan will be a contributor early. I think you might see Ethan early in the season as a situational pass rusher at DE and he has a chance to really push for more playing time as the year goes on.

Brandon Newman: The Irish needed to land at least 2 NG/DT types in this class who could give them snaps early and they accomplished that. Brandon has a real good build for the NG position. He is a strong, stocky kid who plays hard. Brandon did not have a great senior season, but he showed well at the Army game. I think he needs to make sure he comes into training camp in better physical condition than he played his senior season. Ian Williams will be the starter at NG and will play the majority of snaps this season, but I can see Brandon giving him a breather and holding his own.

Hafis Williams: Hafis is my sleeper recruit of this class. Not much was seen of him, not much was talked about, but this kid is relentless. Hafis did not have a whole lot of film available and I think that kept the buzz about him down. He also is a kid who really didn't want a whole lot of attention during the recruiting process. From a technique standpoint, I think Hafis has a lot of work to do, but he will compensate for that with his motor. When he stays low, he is extremely powerful. While there is some question about his best position, DE or DT/NG, I think he winds up as a DT/NG. While everyone focuses on Brandon as an early contributor, watch out for Hafis. I think he is a much better player than some realize.

Kapron Lewis Moore: I debated for a while whether to put Kapron with the LBs or the DL, but I decided to put him where I think he will end up, which is DE. Right now, Kapron is an athlete. He is a guy who improved dramatically from his junior to his senior season, but who still needs to become more of a football player. When you watch Kapron play, he excels in situations where he can just let his athleticism take over. Fundamentally and technically, he needs to lock into a position and really learn how to play the position, because in college, he won't be athletically superior to his opponents. I see Kapron as one of those guys who will kind of disappear for a year or 2 before he is ready to make his impact. Nevertheless, he is a great get for the Irish.

Finally, I figured here was the best place to discuss my thoughts following recruiting on the Omar Hunter situation. Make no mistake about it, losing Omar was a huge loss. He is an immense talent and in my view the absolute perfect talent for the NG position in the Irish defense. You can't minimize that loss from a talent standpoint. However, having said that, what we learned from Omar after his decommitment made me think perhaps he was not a good fit for the Irish team and program. Omar stated that he was concerned he would have to face double teams every play as a NG in a 3-4 and that would limit him from becoming a playmaker. To be clear, I am not criticizing the kid personally and he had every right to choose whatever school he wanted to go to. My point is this: The NG in the Irish defense, which is where Omar would have been firmly planted, is about as difficult a position as there is in football. There is very little, if any, glory there. You are going to get pounded every play and most plays you will be hammered by 2 guys simultaneously. Omar is absolutely right -- it is likely you won't show up as a playmaker at this spot. It takes a special player type and special personality to succeed in this position. You have to have a guy who is 110% unselfish and who is absolutely relentless. He has to give you that attitude every down because the only time he is likely to show up glaringly is when he lets up or gets blown up inside. While you always want as much talent as possible, in some ways I think guys like Pat Kuntz and Ian Williams, guys who are overachievers, tend to fare better in this spot than the superstar high school athletes. In any case, the Omar situation is over and I wish him the best.

Your thoughts?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Offensive Line

After witnessing the Irish O Line struggle throughout the 2007 season, you can't overestimate the importance of getting some fresh blood injected into this unit. While I expect that significant improvement on the line next year will come from current players refocusing and developing, you always need an infusion of fresh bodies and talent on the line. The Irish added 4 solid prospects to the O line group this recruiting class.

Trevor Robinson: Trevor is the most heralded of the group signed by the Irish and should be a mainstay at guard in the coming years. He is exactly what the Irish needed in an interior lineman. He is big, strong, physical, and not afraid to mix it up. Trevor is already from a size standpoint able to contribute and being an early enrollee will help him even more. I watched Trevor closely at the Army All American game and came away extremely impressed. His run blocking is superior right now. Trevor can come in right now and contribute as a run blocker on the line. Where he really needs to work and improve is in his pass blocking. Watching him, I suspect that his high school did not throw the ball a whole lot. Trevor's pass blocking technique is not awful, it is just pretty raw right now. The good part is that he has all the things you can't coach already there -- size, natural strength, attitude, etc. While I don't know that he will start next season, I do think he will provide some solid competition for Turkovich and Olsen and push them hard. If those guys don't have a fire lit under them now, they soon will. You can clearly tell why Trevor was one of the first prospects targeted by the coaching staff last year.

Braxston Cave: This guy has to be a favorite for Irish fans already. The stuff he did to help cement this recruiting class speaks loudly to his leadership ability and character. As a player, Braxston is pretty darn good in his own right. I had a tough time evaluating Braxston on his high school tape because I am not real high on Indiana high school football and the competition he faced. What I could tell is that he plays hard and he plays nasty. I loved his attitude. What really helped me get a picture of Braxston was his performance at the ESPN Under Armour game. He looked fantastic. I saw a guy who played with much better technique than I previously thought and who is not intimidated in the least (plus he pancaked Omar Hunter which made me smile). Braxston has real good size for a center/guard and could help early, though I don't see him cracking the starting lineup as a freshman. With Braxston and Mike Golic coming in, I expect one of these guys to eventually shift to guard.

Mike Golic: The first recruit to commit in his class, Mike is the son of former Irish player Mike Golic, Sr. Mike is going to contribute to this program before all is said and done, you can count on that. He plays with excellent technique and has a very advanced understanding of technique and leverage. Where he needs to improve is in his size and his adjustment to top competition, as I don't believe he played against very good competition in high school. While I think Mike is at least 2 years away from contributing on the line, I believe he can contribute very early, possibly as a freshman, as a long snapper. While I think Mike has the poise and ability to serve as the long snapper as a freshman, I am really hoping that the Irish find an alternative, because he would really benefit from having the redshirt year to gain size and strength. I think Mike is going to be one of those guys where he kind of goes unseen in the program for a couple of years, people forget about him, and then he makes a big jump and is a contributor likely by his junior year.

Lane Clelland: Lane is probably the only projected offensive tackle that the Irish signed in this recruiting class. He is a hard nosed kid who is not afraid to mix it up. 2 things stand out to me about Lane right now. First, he has a great understanding of leverage. As a wrestler in high school, Lane has really learned the value of playing with leverage. You can't overestimate how important this is. I wish more O linemen had a wrestling background. Second, likely because of his wrestling and weight class restrictions, Lane is small right now. He needs to add a lot of size and strength before he is ready to contribute. If you were to look at Lane right now next to a Sam Young or Paul Duncan or Matt Romine, you would clearly know who the freshman was. This will come with time. While I wish that the Irish could have signed an additional lineman in this class who could contribute as a freshman at tackle, Lane will be a fine player down the road for the Irish. I will say this about Lane -- his freshman year is going to be extremely important for him to make big size gains and a positive impression as I believe the Irish will be targeting at least 2 tackles in this coming class who they feel will be ready and able to play early.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Tight End

With the departure of John Carlson to graduation and Konrad Reuland to transfer, the Irish entered this recruiting season looking to secure 2 TEs. They certainly succeeded, as they landed 5 star TE Kyle Rudolph and solid TE Joseph Fauria. Rudolph and Fauria are different players, but both are extremely talented and will help the Irish.

Kyle Rudolph: In my view, Kyle was the #1 TE recruit in the country this year. He is another of those "he can do it all" type of guys. Kyle is probably most known because of his ability to run and stretch the field and make plays catching the ball from the TE position. He certainly can do that. What I think is underrated is Kyle's size and blocking ability. The comparison most people make is saying that Kyle is like John Carlson when he came in. While many of their skills are similar, Kyle is MUCH bigger than John was a freshman. People forget that John came to ND weighing no more than 215 pounds. By contrast, Kyle will arrive at ND weighing at least 235-240 pounds. Kyle is also much taller than John. This is a good thing, because the Irish will need Kyle to give them some minutes at TE this year. While I expect Will Yeatman to return from suspension in the fall, either Rudolph or Fauria will likely have to give the Irish some snaps in the fall. On film, Kyle shows a good understanding of route running, he is solid at finding holes in the zone, and has good hands. Like any other freshman TE, he will need to work on his blocking technique. The good part is for a "pass catching" TE, Kyle shows excellent attitude and desire in blocking. You don't do much better than landing the #1 prospect at the TE position.

Joseph Fauria: I must admit, when I first watched Joseph Fauria on film, I thought he was a decent player, but not great. However, the more I watch him, the more I see that his future is going to be a lot brighter than his present. He has all the tools to succeed, he just needs to refine them. I think when some fans look at Rudolph and Fauria, they pigeon hole Rudolph as the pass catcher and Fauria as the blocking TE. I am not sure this is accurate. I think Rudolph is a better blocker than he is given credit for and Fauria is a better pass catcher than he is given credit for. Actually, I believe Fauria needs to improve more in the area of blocking than in the area of receiving. At a full 6'7'' 250, Fauria is a huge guy, and right now his size makes him a little awkward. He will get used to playing at that size and then he will become much more fluid. With his size, Fauria is going to need to work really hard at staying low in his base when blocking and not leaning on guys. I know some sites projected that Fauria could grow into an O Lineman. I don't see it. He has the frame to get that big, but I don't know how good an O lineman he would be. He would need a TON of work on technique and I think his skill set is much better suited to TE than OL. Fauria is going to be a good player at ND before he is done and in some respects, he reminds me of a bigger Will Yeatman.

Your thoughts?

Next Up: Offensive Line

Monday, March 3, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Wide Receiver

The Irish signed a bumper crop of receivers in this year's class, and it could not come at a better time. Mike Floyd, Deion Walker, and John Goodman are in my view the best WR haul the Irish have signed in quite some time. I have reviewed the film on all 3 now and all I can say is WOW!

Mike Floyd: Mike Floyd is hands down the most talented overall WR the Irish have signed in the last decade +. He is just such a complete player that you sometimes forget he is only a high school senior when you watch him. He really does everything well -- runs great routes, great hands, solid speed, technically sound. Mike may not start for the Irish, but he is going to play and play a lot as a freshman. The one knock I have heard on Mike is that he doesn't have great top end speed. This is ridiculous. Watch the kid play. You don't need to run a 4.3 in order to have good football speed and be a deep threat. Mike is by no means a possession receiver and he makes plenty of plays downfield. Give me a 4.5 guy with great technique to work his way deep any day over a track sprinter with poor technique who can be knocked off his route. Mike is the recruit I am most excited about in this class. In this offense, with the QBs the Irish have signed the last 2 years, Mike has All-American potential.

Deion Walker: I will be honest, I am not sure how accurate my review of Deion Walker will be. Of all the prospects in this class, Deion was the toughest to evaluate. On film, 3 things jump out at you with Deion -- he is a smooth athlete, he will make plays with the ball in his hands, and he is fantastic at going up and getting the ball at its highest point. Beyond that, it becomes difficult to evaluate Deion, primarily because the competition he is playing against is very very poor. Deion just looks like a man amongst boys on the field, partially because he is a great player and partially because of the lack of talent he is playing with and against. This makes it very difficult to accurately judge his speed and even his technique and route running, because he often doesn't have to use great technique to beat the guys covering him. I was really hoping to see more of Deion at the Under Armour game against better competition, but he was slowed by injury. While Deion has the pure athleticism to compete early, I think he is going to need some time to adjust to the speed and talent of the college game. He is going to have to learn to work technique and route wise against top corners and it will be interesting to watch him develop and adapt to the frustration all top high school players experience when they can't simply impose their will every play. When he figures it out though, Deion has as much pure talent and athleticism as anyone.

John Goodman: Mr. Anonymous, the overlooked recruit. Because of the star power of Floyd and Walker, I sometimes think Irish fans overlook John Goodman. Some see him as a reincarnation of Jeff Samardzija. John is better than most people think. The first attribute that hasn't been discussed nearly enough is his speed. I will catch heat for this statement, but I would be willing to bet that pure straight line speed, John Goodman is the fastest WR in this class. That doesn't mean he is the best overall WR or best athlete, but it does mean he is faster than Jeff was and is not an Ed McCaffrey possession guy. John is another guy who I see making his mark more down the road than as a freshman. First, he needs to reacquaint himself with the WR position after playing mainly QB as a senior. It is very difficult to miss a year at your natural position and then simply flip the switch back and have your technique and route running perfect. Second, John needs to get stronger. He looked pretty lean at the Army game. Again, however, the future is bright.

Those are my reviews of the WRs signed by the Irish. Your thoughts?

Next Up: Tight End

Monday, February 11, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Running Back

Last year, the Irish landed 2 what I would consider elite RBs in Robert Hughes and Armando Allen. Therefore, we all knew it was going to be a challenge landing another elite guy at the position this year. As much as we would love to be in the recruiting position of USC where we can simply stockpile 5 star guys at the position year after year, the reality is ND is not there yet. Nevertheless, the Irish landed a solid RB prospect in Jonas Gray.

Let me preface my comments by saying that I do not believe this was a great year for RBs. Aside from Darrell Scott and 1 or 2 other guys, I think everyone else I watched was solid, but not spectacular. Jonas Gray falls into that solid group. I think Jonas is an excellent get for the Irish for a couple of reasons. First, the 2 RBs the Irish landed last year are very different from one another. Robert is a power guy with some quick feet and good hands and Armando is a gamebreaker speed back. When I watch Jonas on film, he seems like a nice combination of Robert and Armando. He does not have the size or power of Robert nor does he have the football speed and quickness of Armando, but he runs low and hard and has enough speed to get the job done. Second, I really like the way Jonas initiates and takes on contact. He protects the ball well, keeps his pad level low, and is not afraid to initiate contact rather than waiting for the pursuer to hit him. Third, the kid is a leader and you can't have enough guys like that on your roster. Fourth, from watching his film, Jonas did a lot of his running from an I formation in high school, which the Irish use frequently. One of the main issues Armando had last season making the adjustment to the college game was that he spent most of his high school career as the feature back in a 1 back set. It is very different learning to read blocks from the I and following your fullback, etc.

Like every other prospect in the country, Jonas has things he will need to improve. I know he ran a 4.3 at one of the football camps, but I didn't see that blazing speed translate onto the field. His film showed good speed, but not 4.3 speed. Jonas will also need to work on his foot quickness, making his cuts quicker and more decisively. Several times on film, he decided to lower his shoulder and take on contact, when a cutback or move could have resulted in a much larger gain. That will come with experience and learning more about the position.

I normally try to think about who a player reminds me of when I am watching them. I had a hard time doing that with Jonas. Anyone have any thoughts there? I was thinking perhaps a guy like Deshaun Foster.

The Irish almost pulled off an improbable coup this recruiting season and almost landed Milton Knox of California in addition to Jonas. I am very very very high on Milton and you can mark it down -- he is going to be a big-time RB. For a guy his size, he just runs with a power you don't normally see. He reminds me a lot of a guy like Maurice Jones Drew and would have been a great back to compete with Jonas in this class.

Jonas Gray is a tremendous addition to an already talented RB corps the Irish will feature next season. While I strongly expect Robert, Armando, and James Aldridge to carry the load next season, Jonas will make his mark before he is through at ND. I am very pleased with the Irish future at RB.

Next Up: Wide Receiver

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thoughts on February 8 Press Conference

I will be returning to my recruiting recap articles shortly, but today I wanted to comment on the press conference from today and the announcements that Coach Weis made regarding the program:

1. Coach Weis giving up the playcalling and total control of the offense.

I am going to be completely honest here -- this shocked me. I did not see this coming at all. I didn't get to watch the press conference live, so when I first read the bullet point that Charlie was giving up the playcalling, I had mixed emotions. As Charlie said today and has said numerous times in the past, he feels his greatest strength is his playcalling ability. My initial reaction was concern about whether he should really be subtracting his greatest strength from the program at this time. Also, I never had a problem with his playcalling and did not believe playcalling was one of the major issues on offense last season. However, after listening to the explanation he gave at the press conference, I see why he made the move and I think it could be a really good move for the Irish. Once again, Charlie has shown that he is not afraid to make bold and dramatic changes to help the program. A move like this can have the effect of energizing your entire offensive coaching staff. Those guys work extremely hard in their positions, but when you are not one of the main guys directing the ship, it can be very frustrating, especially when things are not going well. A move like this gives those offensive coaches more of a sense of ownership over the offense and its performance. Coaches can't think after a poor practice or poor game "My RBs ran the ball well" or "My WRs caught the ball when the QB was able to throw it to them." It is about production from the offense, not production from your specific position group. I think what Charlie realized this offseason is that the offense had become stagnant. He wasn't receiving creative solutions from the offensive coaches because they didn't feel empowered enough to tell the head coach they thought he was making a mistake. A key part of the presser today was when Charlie said that he personally performed his best when he had someone to lean on. I really don't know if Charlie has had that or has done that the past 3 years. Mike Haywood was a first time Offensive Coordinator when he was hired. Rob Ianello was a career position coach. As head coach and in control of the offense, I just didn't see a whole lot of collaboration during games between Charlie and the other members of the offensive staff. Now, with Coach Haywood running the offense, the other assistants involved, and Charlie interjecting, he is forcing himself to collaborate with and lean on others. I do think this is going to be incredibly difficult for Charlie to stick with. You saw that in his demeanor at the press conference. I think one of the major themes I took away from the press conference is that Charlie wants to become more approachable -- more approachable to his coaches and more approachable to his players. I think one of the things he found from his self-reflection at the end of the year is that he spent so much time on Xs and Os and trying to plug leaks last season that he really didn't know his football team well enough. When things went bad, he didn't know his team well enough to know which buttons to push with them as individuals or collectively. Today was a bold and decisive step by Charlie to become this program's head coach, not just its master offensive strategist. I am interested and excited to see how it translates onto the field.

2. Brian Polian Named Special Teams Coach with Charlie as his "Assistant."

This move has been expected since the hiring of Jon Tenuta to coach the LBs. Look, Charlie realizes the special teams has been a disaster the past several years. Therefore, he is taking a coach in Polian who has experience coaching special teams and he is saying to that guy, "Forget about the LBs, forget about the defense, you are the guy who is going to focus solely and exhaustively on fixing special teams. Scheme, personnel, etc. is all on the table. To give us the tools we need, we are going to visit the football staf that does it best. Fix it. And to let every member of this team know how important I think this is, I am going to officially go out on a limb and call myself your assistant." I like it.

Your thoughts??????

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Irish Recruiting Recap: Quarterback

Dayne Crist is one of my favorite recruits in this class. Let me get that bias out in the open right off the bat. To commit to Notre Dame early in the process knowing that the Irish signed the most heralded QB recruit in the last decade just 1 year prior, and then stay true to that commitment despite an awful season and an onslaught of attention from other schools speaks volumes not only about Dayne the player, but also Dayne the person. This is a kid who was undeterred by the presence of Jimmy Clausen and was actually attracted by the opportunity to compete with Jimmy. He was also one of our biggest recruiters, singled out by Charlie in his signing day press conference.

Lost in the multitude of recruiting stories this year is the fact that Jimmy Clausen actually played a huge role in Dayne committing to the Irish. These two have known each other since childhood and have remained friends. Jimmy hosted Dayne on his visit and recruited him as hard as the staff did. It would have been very easy for Jimmy to feel threatened by the Irish recruiting another top QB but he really wanted Dayne at ND. And Dayne wanted to compete with Jimmy as teammates. I think that is a key dynamic in this signing. QBs are different animals. In the college game, the importance of having a top QB is absolutely essential. Some QBs can be fragile guys though -- guys with huge egos and guys who have to be "the man." Make no mistake about it, if Jimmy was one of those guys, this signing would be a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, he is not. There is a big difference between "competing with" and "competing against" a guy. Jimmy and Dayne want to "compete with" each other. They want to push each other, drive each other, and make each other better. They both have that goal.

So what are the Irish getting in Dayne Crist? They are getting a tremendous leader first and foremost. By all accounts, this is a kid that others just gravitate to. We all know people like that. We can't quantify exactly what it is about these people, but we know they just have something in their makeup and personality that just makes others want to follow them and want to be around them. This is an invaluable characteristic for a QB to have. Most of the great ones do. Think about it -- Montana, Brady, Marino, Elway, Simms -- not a whole lot of shrinking violets or guys others have trouble getting along with in that group. There is a reason a guy like Jeff George never realized his potential and bounced to seemingly every team in the league.

In addition to his mental makeup, The Irish are also getting a guy with all the physical tools to become a top QB. There is not a throw on the field that Dayne does not have the ability to make. His arm strength is plus rating level and he has tremendous size. He is also more mobile than I think a lot of people realize. On film, he makes a number of plays rolling out on the run or sliding left or right.

From a technique standpoint, Dayne is raw right now, which to me is a positive. He is just scratching the surface of his potential. Everyone wants to compare Dayne to Jimmy. Right now, there isn't a comparison. Jimmy came to ND as much more of a polished QB than Dayne is right now. He was much farther along in his footwork and ability to read defenses in particular. Having 2 full springs and a season on Dayne pushes him that much farther ahead in his development. This is a GOOD thing!!!!! I hear way too many Irish fans saying Dayne could beat out Jimmy this year. Folks, we all want the Irish to get to the top of the mountain and win a championship. You don't do that with freshmen QBs. What is best for the Irish is for Dayne to have the opportunity to sit, learn, and develop that Jimmy didn't have. Jimmy Clausen is going to be the Irish QB and is going to explode. Dayne is going to learn and develop and when he gets his chance, hopefully when Jimmy graduates, he will step in and excel.

To me, the big challenge for Charlie is going to be learning to develop 2 QBs at once. When Brady Quinn was at ND, Charlie admitted that Brady took just about every practice rep. You can do that in the pros because if you have a top QB like Tom Brady, you know he will be with the franchise for your entire tenure. And you can get a veteran backup that doesn't need much technical development. In college, kids graduate and you better have another guy ready to go. I think one of the mistakes Charlie made in years 1 and 2 was not developing a guy like Evan Sharpley to the point where he could maximize his ability and be a serviceable starter until a guy like Jimmy was ready to take over. Charlie cannot make that mistake again, especially with Dayne. Dayne needs reps and he needs coaching. Plus, with Jimmy having had arm problems in his past, there is no reason for him to monopolize the snaps in practice.

I am extremely excited about this signing. With Charlie at ND, the Irish will always be attractive to top QBs. This signing goes a long way towards stabilizing and stocking this position for the present and future. I could not draw up a QB that has the skills and mental makeup that are better for the Irish offense and team than what Dayne Crist possesses. As Charlie would say, the arrow is pointing straight up!!!!

Next Up: Irish Recruiting Recap: Running Back

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Irish Add 23

Signing day is here and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have closed out by all accounts a hugely successful recruiting campaign. As of this writing, the Irish signed 23 players, with Milton Knox the only remaining undecided. In the coming days, be sure to check back on this blog as I will be breaking down the recruits individually position by position, much like I did following the season with my post-season analysis articles.

From an overall perspective, this class is hugely important to the future of ND football. Coming off a disastrous season on the field, the Irish program would have been in serious trouble if recruiting had gone in the tank. Immense credit goes to Charlie Weis, Corwin Brown, Rob Ianello, and the rest of the Irish staff for holding this class together. When I look at the top classes in the nation, I don't see too many 3-9 programs putting together classes like this.

Everyone always obsesses today over who has the #1 class in the country. This matters little to me, but I recognize it is important to a large segment of fans. I am not sure the Irish have the top class in the country, but I feel very confident that this is a top 5 class. There is balance between skill position guys and bruisers, between offense and defense, and there is star power. The best part of this class, to me, however, is the chemistry they have developed with one another. It has been absolutely remarkable to see this group come together and gel like this before they have even enrolled. For a team that had obvious chemistry issues this past season, the cameraderie these guys share with one another is infectious and much needed.

In the coming days/weeks, I hope you will check back as I share my thoughts on these signees by position. Below, I have listed the names of the young men that are the future of the Irish football program. Enjoy this day, as it is a great day to be an Irish football fan.....

Blanton, Robert
Cave, Braxston
Clelland, Lane
Crist, Dayne
Cwynar, Sean
Fauria, Joseph
Filer, Steve
Fleming, Darius
Floyd, Michael
Golic Jr., Mike
Goodman, John
Gray, Jonas
Johnson, Ethan
Lewis-Moore, Kapron
McCarthy, Dan
McDonald, Anthony
Newman, Brandon
Posluszny, David
Robinson, Trevor
Rudolph, Kyle
Slaughter, Jamoris
Walker, Deion
Williams, Hafis

Friday, February 1, 2008

Thoughts on Irish Coaching Change

Wow. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the coaching change announced yesterday, where Bill Lewis retired and John Tenuta was hired to replace him. Tenuta will hold the same title of Assistant Head Coach for Defense that Bill Lewis held. His specific positional responsibility has not been officially announced yet. I first heard about this rumored change last weekend, and my reaction was shock and disbelief that Tenuta would come to ND for anything less than a DC role.

Before I talk about the Tenuta hire, let me first say that I am saddened to lose Bill Lewis from this coaching staff. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think Bill Lewis is one of the finest people, coaches, and most importantly teachers around. I don't think people realize just how good a coach this guy is. He has 40+ years of coaching experience, has been in the NFL, been a head coach in college, and is still a fantastic recruiter. The players love Lewis and his coaching style and his unit improved year after year. I know everyone is excited about Tenuta coming and the blitzing, etc., but the Irish are also losing one heck of a coach from their staff. I am thrilled that Lewis will be staying on in the athletic department. He is a phenomenal ambassador for ND and he has a ton of recruiting contacts with coaches in the southeast that Charlie, Corwin, and the rest of the staff will be able to tap into.

Now, on to John Tenuta... There is a TON to LOVE about this hire. First, the guy can flat out coach. You don't need to listen to pundits or read his bio to know that. Just think of the teams he has been associated with and the defenses he has put together. He is a vocal, intense, aggressive coach and will bring that style to ND. Second, Tenuta is a guy with a lot of experience. Losing Bill Lewis, you are losing a guy with a ton of coaching experience. With Corwin being fairly inexperienced as a DC, it would have been a mistake to replace Lewis with an inexperienced coach. Corwin leaned on Lewis a lot last year and now he will have another experienced coach to work with on defense. Third, hiring Tenuta proves yet again that the supposedly arrogant and egomaniacial Charlie is willing to hire the best coaches available. This past season, I read way too many articles about how Charlie doesn't let his coaches coach and how he wants "yes men" on his staff. Let me assure you first that is not the case, and second, Tenuta is not a "yes man" by any means.

While I strongly believe this is a great hire, there are some potential concerns that others have raised with the hiring of Tenuta. First, he is rumored to be a poor/disinterested recruiter. I think it is fair to say that Tenuta would much rather be coaching talent than recruiting it. Bill Lewis was a fantastic recruiter, so someone will have to pick up the slack. Tenuta will recruit for ND I am sure, but other coaches will have to pick up some slack there. I do think there will be some guys who are interested in ND just because they know of Tenuta's reputation. Second, some folks wonder if Tenuta will be 1 year and out at ND. I have no idea if that will happen or not, but I am sure it was discussed between Charlie, Corwin, and Tenuta. While I am always a fan of continuity on a staff, there is something to be said for bringing in a guy who is at the top of the profession, having him tutor your young guys, instill an aggressive mindset in them, and allowing your coaches to learn from him. I think Corwin, Jappy, and Polian will be better coaches for having worked with Tenuta, even if it is for only 1 season. Third, there is a concern about how this move affects Corwin. The answer is that it doesn't. This is in no way a reflection on Corwin's performance, ability, or potential. This move is about filling a vacancy with the best candidate out there. If Corwin was left out of the loop in the search and interviews, I would say that is a definite red flag. However, Charlie made perfectly clear that Corwin was part of the interviews and had multiple discussions with Tenuta about how they would work together. I fully expect Charlie to give Corwin a strong vote of praise on Feb. 8 when he discusses the move.

In sum, I am extremely sorry to see Bill Lewis retire, and wish him the best in his recovery from upcoming surgery. I am equally excited for the arrival of John Tenuta and can't wait to see him help this defense develop and mature. Signing day is around the corner!!!!!! GO IRISH!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Diminishing Depth on the Defensive Line

In the past 2 weeks, the Irish defensive line has suffered 2 significant blows, first with the news that Pat Kuntz is not currently enrolled at ND (though he hopes to return) and second with the news this week that Derell Hand's football career may be over due to a reported spinal condition. With the graduation of dominant DE Trevor Laws and also Dwight Stephenson, there is some reason for concern about the DL going into the spring.

This spring, the Irish will be painfully thin from a depth perspective at DL and even more painfully lacking in experience at this critical position. As it stands now, the Irish will barely be able to field a 2 deep of scholarship players along the DL. At DE, the Irish will have Justin Brown, Paddy Mullen, Emeka Nwankwo, Kallen Wade, and Sean Cwynar. At NG, it is basically just the Ian Williams show. That is 6 scholarship DL on the entire roster!! From a sheer numbers standpoint, that is a very scary situation. What is even scarier, however, is that the 6 guys we are talking about are not experienced, grizzled veterans and 1 of the 6 (Cwynar) is a freshman who will simply be trying to learn the system. Of the 6 listed above, only Justin Brown and to a lesser extent Ian Williams have played extensively. Ouch. Obviously, someone (likely either Nwankwo or Mullen) will have to cross train at both end and NG to provide some depth. I really have no idea what the Irish would do if God forbid Ian Williams were to suffer an injury.

So that is the bad news. You can't sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist. However, I don't subscribe to "the sky is falling" crowd. Why? First, I believe Pat Kuntz will return to ND this summer and will be on the field when the 2008 season kicks off. I cannot overemphasize how important a player he is on so many levels for the 2008 Irish. If he returns, I believe Pat will shift to DE opposite Justin Brown to establish a starting trio of Kuntz-Williams-Brown. Kuntz is also able to shift to NG to spell Ian and to DT when the Irish go with a 4 man front. You can't mask the fact that the Irish will not have numbers on DL next year. That is why guys with positional flexibility who can play at a high level at multiple spots like Kuntz can are invaluable. Second, help is on the way. With this recruiting class, as of now, the Irish have reinforcements coming for the D Line. Sean Cwynar is already at ND as an early enrollee. This summer, Ethan Johnson, Brandon Newman, and Hafis Williams will join the corps. 1, likely 2 of these guys are going to have to be ready to contribute and give the Irish some snaps. A guy like Ethan Johnson is critical because on obvious passing downs, he has the speed and ability to give the Irish production at DE. Third, Corwin Brown and Charlie Weis have a plan. They know they are down numbers at DL. I think you will see a very diverse scheme next season to try to work around the problem. As strange as it sounds after saying the Irish lack numbers, I believe the Irish will show more 4 man fronts next season, with a guy like Kerry Neal sliding to DE to rush the passer occasionally. I also think you will see a lot more aggressive defense next year with much more pressure. Corwin knows he doesn't have the depth to sit back and allow teams to go on long drives. One way or the other, he knows he needs to put pressure on the opposing offense and get his D off the field as quickly as possible. Additionally, it is possible that someone like John Ryan will bulk up and see time at DE.

What does all of this mean? It is way too early to tell and there are way too many variables involved. Will Kuntz return? Will the freshmen be ready to contribute? Will someone like Kallen Wade make huge strides in the offseason? The bottom line is that at this point, the 2008 Irish DL has many of the same issues that faced the 2007 OL. Lack of depth, lack of experience, and guys who will be forced to play key minutes before they are ready. DL has clearly emerged as a big time position to watch as the spring approaches.

NOTE: After signing day, I will be doing a series of articles over a period of days/weeks sharing my thoughts on the Irish recruits by position group.